When I first started IT Consulting in August 1999 I encouraged clients to keep dynamic content on websites to drive traffic. I tried to follow my own advice by writing daily journal entries until 2002. Nowadays, my "blog" is a less frequent collection of thoughts while traveling as an SAP Consultant.
Good For: Sentra hatchback. Nissan only sells a sedan version of the Sentra in the United States, but in New Zealand there is a hatchback version that they badged the Pulsar. It is about 13 inches shorter in overall length, making it easier to cram into tight parking spaces than the typical American sedan. It has the same MRA8DE 1.8L motor, and the Sport button for the CVT is on the gear selector, where it should be. There is no ECO mode, but that seems to be the standard operating mode. The CVT does a great job keeping the revs low when cruising, and I averaged 40 mpg overall for the week.
Compromises: The hatchback body style provides some versatility over the sedan, but the cargo capabilities take all the cut when the overall length is reduced. The interior was comfortable for 4 people, but it was a good thing we packed lightly for our trip. A split sliding rear seat would go a long way in getting more out of all the interior space in this 5-door.
Overall reaction - None: Nissan already sells the 5-door Versa Note in the United States, and it would be difficult to make the case for another one in the lineup that is only slightly bigger. The "SSS" trim offered in New Zealand with the 182hp 1.6L turbo could add differentiation, but it may not be interesting enough to sell in the small hot hatch market here. In fact, it seems to have not worked in New Zealand, as Nissan has now cancelled cars, leaving just trucks, crossovers, and sports cars from their lineup. Sounds familiar - there's an American car company that is doing that here as well.
Good For: Versa with a Korean accent. When I first drove this 5-door hatchback I felt many familiar things about this driver-centric setup, such as the single seat-mounted driver's armrest over a spacious middle console with no compartment. Yes, this is how the Nissan Versa Note is set up, an economy car I liked a lot.
Compromises: Unfortnately, a new generation of the Accent was launched this year with no 5-door version, only the sedan.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: Maybe they will bring the 5-door back in a subsequent year, because this is the budget 5-door to get. A 6-speed manual is standard too. This model leaves behind the Accent's reputation from previous generations of being a cheap cramped car. The space upgrade is significant, and has been done tastefully, still keeping the weight around 2500 pounds. Based on the fact that I can't hear the turn signal click at speed on 290, I think they went light on the sound deadening. But that is worth it for an agile, practical, and inexpensive 5-door.
Good For: Trying new things. A full size 4x4 truck is hardly a new thing. But I am continuing to try new things to do with it to build the case for owning one. Even a short bed gets jobs done, which was perfect for a bale of hay. Trading away some bed length for more cab space is not always a compromise. That rear seat folds up and can swallow all the bags of alfalfa that did not fit in the exposed bed. The interior space improvements over older trucks is noticeable. The 5.7L HEMI is a great engine, and the 8-speed transmission lets it rev happily as you get on the highway, but always has an effective tall gear when you want to calmly sip the gas.
Compromises: I tried to find merits of Mopar's shift to the dash mounted gear selector dial, and all I can come up with now is cost cutting. There seems to be a theme of that among all the cheap feeling plastic, even in high touch components like the steering wheel and parking brake release. I suppose some of this saving is passed to the consumer, as the equivalently equipped Ram always seems to be a couple thousand dollars cheaper than the Chevy or Ford, but when these trucks cost $40k you wonder if it is better to get something nice rather than nickel and dime.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: The "2019" Ram is already out, giving us more new things to try beyond the 2018 model I drove. So far I'm not sold on the new things. When I am done trying it is likely that I will just end up buying an old GMT400.
The Valley is a gold mine for deals on boots at outlet stores. The Olathe 252599 boots instantly became my favorite dress boots. This design extends everything I like in the Olathe design, and these even have pegged soles.
I also picked up Olathe 251952 boots in this haul. It satisfied my craving for more of the nice feeling of mule hide that I grew to like a lot from my first pair of Olathe 254217 boots. I was initially concerned with the nylon pull straps, but they turned out to be comfortably less abrasive than the stitching that you often find on leather. The heel is a different style than what works more naturally with my feet, but they broke in nicely and are my alternate boots for wearing into the office when the 252599's are resting.
I was oblivious that Anderson Bean ran the brand until I saw these Horse Power 1071 boots among all the Olathes, Rios, and ABs at the outlet. I always skip past all the AB square toes but these happen to be round toe, and have sturdy shafts that work well for working boots. They looked so nice that I kept them in the box a while to contemplate whether I really wanted to put them to work treading around in the mud. They have nice, pegged, leather soles so I finally decided to break them in by wearing these boots into the office for a week before getting them dirty. I think I made the right decision in the end because the vamp material is not that easy to keep clean for the ideal office look. Plus, the stiffer shafts are better for wearing around the ranch than all day at the office.
Good For: GM's minivan. You can call it a mid-sized SUV or a crossover, but in practice the Acadia does what a minivan does well. It seats 7, is efficient with interior space, and is much easier to park and maneuver than a truck based SUV. I drove last year's model, which felt glaringly different from the new controls on the latest GM vehicles, but that is not a bad thing. This original Acadia was loaded with 4 sliding captain chairs and a usable 3rd row, offering the kind of flexible interior experience I associate with a minivan, not an SUV.
Compromises: This is more of a smaller Dodge Caravan type of minivan than a spacious Sienna. The 2nd row seats are low, so the 2 adults up front are the ones that are most comfortable. It's also more expensive than a minivan, while still being front-wheel-drive based.
Overall reaction - None: If you are one of those people who refuses to drive a vehicle with sliding doors, and yet you find yourself needing something like a minivan, this fits the bill. But to me, it's nothing more than an overpriced minivan.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Good For: Proper American Vehicle. I have finally found a brand new vehicle that I feel completely at home in. Gear shifter on the column. Wide bench seats accomodating 6 people. Rear wheel drive. And I actually don't mind it's a truck. I finally get why there are people who prefer to drive a big truck simply for the interior space and comfort, even if they use the bed of a pickup once a year. In the configuration experienced, it's easy to forget I'm driving a truck at all. The weight distribution of the long cab and short bed is noticeably more neutral than other trucks I have driven. All the daily driver gadgetry is present: bluetooth, dual climate control, a library of GM vehicle information screens, LED lighting, etc.
Compromises: The base models have the 4.3L engine, but it is not your grandfather's 90 degree V6. The 6-speed transmission is always ready for you to wind the new direct injection motor up to the 285 horsepower peak. Even with the V6, it's easy to forget that this is a massive truck. But if you enjoy how effortless the small block V8 pushes big cars around, stick with the V8. I got to compare the two engines side by side and the V6 is literally only 1 mpg more efficient, so you will only save a few bucks. 4x4, on the other hand, is quite a lot of bucks on the option list. But if you venture out into the country you'll probably want it on a $40k+ truck.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: I think I can finally see myself enjoying a truck. It's even family friendly. What other vehicle out there has two levels of storage compartments on the rear door stacked like a double decker bus? I got to drive two different option packages, but there are many avaiable, and something for everyone. I prefer the bench seats, but the middle console between the bucket seat configuration can hold all sorts of things, like 2 vases of flowers. The standard mirrors have a car-like profile, but the same double mirrors that you find on heavy duty trucks are available with the tow package. The Texas Edition essentially adds LED fog lights for free, and actually help light up a rural road and creatures that may cross them. The Chevy is a good truck, but I have also been intrigued by the Ram lately. Who knows, maybe by the time I finally get around to buying a truck, Telsa will have made this all obsolete.
Good For: A quick posh cat. Hertz was running out of cars at SFO, so they dumped a litter of 2017 Jaguar XFs in 35t trim onto the Presidents' Circle lot. There were a number of muscle cars to choose from as well, but the new born cats with only a dozen miles were irresistable and begging to be taken out. The 35t badge oddly stands for a torquey 3.0L supercharged V6 that will pounce on any road, especially with the transmission dialed over to Sport and Dynamic modes.
Compromises: Somehow this $60k+ luxury car still doesn't have passive keyless entry. I thought the annoying behaviour of not being able to lock the car if any of the doors or trunk is open was limited to Toyotas. Someone picked a bunch of options but missed the $615 keyless entry system. I am also disappointed that Jaguar has done away with the classic extensive use of wood in the interior - it is nowhere in the XF. Jaguar's modern interior and exterior design is nice but has now been copied by many affordable brands. The widespread imitation is flattering, I suppose, but there is no longer significant exclusivity in the aesthetics.
Overall reaction - None: What you do get for the exclusive price paid towards the Jaguar XF is a more focused, sportier line of cars than more mainstream offerings from Germany. Those brands reserve this kind of performance for the priciest M, AMG, and S models. But while the physical build reflects what I like to see out of an exclusive performance car, Jaguar felt the need to include a variety of electronics in order to solidify the position as a luxury car. The gear selector dial was annoying. The powered HVAC vents that stow like 1970 Lincoln Continental headlights are cool I guess. The adaptive cruise control which only works in low speeds never fully automates the job of following the car in front of you in stop and go traffic. It is more of an aid to keep the car generally moving with some consideration for the car in front of you instead of slowing to a total halt. I liked the speed-limiter mode in the cruise control system for driving in densly trafficked highways though.
Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 260
Good For: Continued laptop excellence. IT sent me the Yoga 260 to replace my Yoga 12 and I was pleased to see Lenovo addressed the one minor complaint I had about it, bringing back the regular HDMI output instead of the more obscure mini-HDMI. I still like the double-jointed hinge, which is useful for converting to a tablet and providing a useful screen while hooked up to desktop input devices and monitors.
Compromises: Still no detatchable battery, but the Yoga 12's battery performed consistently for the 16 months I had it. Hopefully the Yoga 260's solid state drive won't suddenly fail as the Yoga 12 did.
Overall reaction: Two thumbs Up: The Yoga 260 is also noticeably lighter than the 12, and at 2 pounds 14 ounces it is in MacBook Air territory. With the touch screen, double hinge, and usual Lenovo TrackPoint input devices, I have no reason to be switching to Apple any time soon.
I could not resist the Olathe 252859 boots on the sale shelf at South Texas Tack any longer and finally picked them up. These appear to be from a previous era of Olathe boot design, employing pegged soles and more noticeable arch support from the shank. The lighter and softer leather might be more comfortable in warmer weather, and it is generally nice to have two pairs of Olathe tall tops to switch between so that the they have a chance to rest.
I only started wearing western boots 5 years ago. When we moved to Texas my wife very keenly guided me to getting a pair of good Lucchese 2000 T3203 boots knowing that I would find plenty of opportunities to wear them, and that I would wear them hard and frequently. I had no idea of all this at the time, and was skeptical about spending that much money on a pair of shoes. But looking at it now, for a first pair of boots, you actually get far better bang for the buck buying something that will stand up to the wear and tear of being your only pair of boots, which they were to me for years. Plus, I didn't take care of them particularly well, but have still put about 10,000 hours in them now wearing them all day in and out of work, and have grown to like how comfortable they are. When I drop my son off at school on the way to the office, I don't even hesitate to play basketball wearing them.
The Justin Utah Hybred WK4644 boots are for working around the ranch. The deep V scallop makes it easy to get them on and off multiple times in a short period when coming in and out of the house. The construction and materials seem to hold up well to the usual adventures here, like being stomped on by cattle or having blood splattered on. I like the traditional look of the narrow round toe over the chunky look that most work boots have.
I acquired Tony Lama 3R RR1002 boots during vacation last month, when I realized that I can enjoy wearing boots more often if I fill the gap in my selection between the two extremes of work boots and dress shoes. I wear these when I need to go into town and want to wear something nicer than dirty work boots. They have a comfortable, snug fit for wearing all day. I even had to go a half size up since I couldn't get my right foot through the vamp of my usual size. I like the efforts put into some of the details on these boots, such as the look of the 3/4 welt, even though it has a rubber sole.
Dan Post Milwaukee DP2110R boots fill in for situations where I am wearing black pants. Getting another pair of Luccheses in black was an option that I considered, but I didn't feel like getting two things that are almost the same. In my wanderings in the chain boot stores I came across these Chinese hand made boots. They have the leather sole, 3/4 welt, pegged at the belt like you should expect in a dress boot, all for half the price of the equivalent product made in the US or Mexico. I am generally skeptical of long term quality and durability of the workmanship these, but it is probably fine for a boot that sees only occasional wear.
Olathe TT2 254217 boots are my new look for the office this year. I had been driving by South Texas Tack for months and I finally stopped in this month to discover what I had been missing this whole time. I walked out with a pair from what appears to be a custom run of American made Olathe boots based on their TT2 design. Among other distinctive elements, they have the new O toe with the overhang over the welt. This is a nice departure from the popular "wide square toe" that I feel looks too chunky for the office. The heavy leather wraps the feet comfortably all day, and the shafts wrap closer to the calves than the usual buckaroo for a slimmer look under pant legs.
Good For: Refreshing minimalism. It has been a decade since I have driven a vehicle without power mirrors. Thanks to the Yaris, I got a refresher on all the little unnecessary features that become standard on even the cheapest cars now, adding weight and complexity. It's really not that hard to push the mirror in place just like you would the interior mirror. The steering wheel is just a steering wheel. If you want to change the radio volume then you will have to touch the radio. And it is a fine radio for an entry level car, complete with a big touch-screen, Bluetooth, iPod controls, and HD Radio. Windshield wiper? Only one blade needed.
Compromises: The only thing missing is a minimalist manual transmission, which seems to have disappeared from the entire 5-door lineup for 2016. Instead, we just have an old 4-speed automatic. It responds well and performs just like a good ol' 4L60, and is even reasonably fuel efficient. The price is also not very minimalist: $15,995 for a car that doesn't even have a remote or cruise control.
Overall reaction - None: The Yaris is Toyota's entry level vehicle. To me, Kias and the Nissan Versa offer more car for less money, but consumers may find the general feeling of higher quality worth the Toyota premium. At minimum, it is worth noting that even Toyota's cheapest car is efficient with interior space and will accomodate 4 adults.
Good For: Good for what? Good Question. The VQ35DE sings when you open her up, but is there really anything that this minivan is particularly good at?
Compromises: The tall vehicle looks big, but why is it not as spacious inside as the Sienna and Sedona? Handling is pretty sketchy. Why did it feel like the struts were blown already with only 29k miles on the clock? Rental car abuse might be the answer, but is it worth noting that this is the first rental I have ever driven with this problem? This is the only van with a CVT, but does the thirsty VQ35DE ruin any potential efficiency gains?
Overall reaction - Thumb down: The Quest is not particularly lacking in equipment, with typical minivan features like three zone climate control, power sliding doors, and Bluetooth. But it is not as good at being a van as the others I have driven, which get the job done better.
Friday, 20th of November, 2015
Wednesday, 18th of November, 2015
Monday, 16th of November, 2015
Sunday, 15th of November, 2015
Wednesday, 11th of November, 2015
Thursday, 5th of November, 2015
Good For: Proper touch screen laptop. Touch screens are becoming more common on laptops now, but most of them tend to be retrofits of a regular laptop form factor, preventing them from ever being used like a tablet in the most mobile situations. Most manufacturers have been offering detachable keyboards to present hybrid laptop/tablet solutions, but the Yoga saves you from working every day on a laptop that is designed to break into two pieces. The first unique Yoga move is the double-jointed hinge, which allows you to fold the screen so it is flipped all the way against the bottom of the laptop. It's a simple way to convert a laptop to a tablet, except the keyboard is now on the bottom. How do you prevent the keyboard from getting hammered with inputs from all the things that touch the bottom of a tablet, like fingers and table surfaces? The second Yoga move is a keyboard frame that lifts and physically locks out the action. All this adds up to a laptop form factor that is thinner than other Thinkpads, while still cramming in about twice the battery life of the X230T.
Compromises: The keyboard on the upper right changed again; the insert button has been deleted. It's not that I think I will miss the Insert key much, but the Home and End buttons have shifted to the right. It appears this is to space out the F-keys and make the Esc key bigger, but I had no issues with the old design. Other removals make sense in achievng the modern thin profile. The regular RJ45 network port has been dropped, and video output is mini-HDMI. Adapters are easy to attach for days when I am visiting customers still stuck in 2008. This is the first Thinkpad I have had with no detatchable battery. Hopefully, the battery holds charge after daily usage cycles as well as Apple products do, as replacements seem to be more complicated than Thinkpads used to be.
Overall reaction - Two thumbs Up: The new Yoga form factor is designed from the ground up for hybrid keyboard and tablet usage scenarios. There are no compromises typical of adapting a traditional laptop form factor. The power button, screen rotation lock, and power buttons are on the side, so they are accessible even in tablet mode. The stylus is on the corner, which seems like a more space efficient location. The screen is a beautiful 1920x1080, a lot of pixels for a 12" screen, and it responds to my finger as well as an iPad. Lenovo kept the TrackPoint and TrackPad combination that actually makes sense, not the awful minimalist one in the latest T series. I suppose it doesn't matter what Lenovo does with old designs as long as they do a good job on new ones like this. Honestly, I had already started ordering a Surface Pro 3, but was glad to find a solid Lenovo that works better for daily use.
Monday, 2nd of November, 2015
Good For: Promoting progress. The 500L drives about as different as it looks, and reflects some interesting new engineering that has been reserved for luxury cars. Under the hood, there is a 1.4L turbo engine that does away with the traditional throttle body valve, relying completely on the "MultiAir" variable value timing and lift to control air flow into the engine. The system offers better performance and superior efficiency. Drop the automatic transmission into drive or reverse and the first thing you notice is that there is no torque converter to apply creeping power at idle. You have to give it some gas and then it goes like a computer-operated manual transmission clutch. Gear ratios are as short as what you would expect on a manual transmission, since we can no longer leverage the torque converter at lower revs. The transmission's affinity for higher RPMs minimizes turbo lag and accentuates the nice exhaust note. It has good tendencies to be in the gear I would be in if I was operating a stick shifter, and I am always aware because this is the only car I know that displays which gear it is in, even in fully automatic mode.
Compromises: Typical tradeoffs to riding the bleeding edge apply, as we don't have much real world data on how the new MultiAir system holds up in long term reliability. MultiAir's hydraulic design is even a bit different from the electro-magnetic system that BMW has used for some time now. Opting for the manual transmission takes you off the edge a little, which is still the option I would choose. I am surprised automatic engine start-stop is not available, especially since the clutch transmission can accomodate this easier than the traditional automatic.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: At first glance, the idea of stretching the design of the 500 supermini to a tall 5-door contradicts its heritage. But the 500L considers the modern requirements for an economy car, and dares to promote new ideas in automotive engineering to the masses. Unlike other small cars the 500L accomodates 4 very comfortably. The rear seats are huge with recline and fore-aft adjustments to optimize cargo space behind it. Fiat even brings us convex segments to the side mirrors, which is already a safety requirement in countries like Belgium. At minimum, the 500L is a memorable driving experience. Even the one touch lane change turn signal blinks 5 times instead of the 3 that other cars do.
Saturday, 24th of October, 2015
The Myth of Basic Science - "... the linear dogma so prevalent in the world of science and politics—that science drives innovation, which drives commerce—is mostly wrong. It misunderstands where innovation comes from. Indeed, it generally gets it backward."
Friday, 23rd of October, 2015
Wednesday, 21st of October, 2015
Monday, 19th of October, 2015
Friday, 16th of October, 2015
Wednesday, 14th of October, 2015
Friday, 9th of October, 2015
Friday, 2nd of October, 2015
Good For: Laptop with disfunctional input devices - Lenovo has dropped the optical drive from the T-series to make it thinner, though it is not as thin as many other laptops these days. A touch screen is now available, but the screen still has a classic 2-hinge attachment preventing it from being used as a tablet. The 68+ battery bulges from the bottom, lifting the back for a more comfortable typing position. It will run the laptop for as long as I might want to work in one day: at least 12.5 hours with wi-fi on.
Compromises: The trackpad is completely ruined. All the buttons are gone, so if still use the trackpoint, your "buttons" are now just touch-sensitive zones defined inside the trackpad. It often does not respond correctly, regardless of whether you just touch the zone or press hard enough to get the tactile feedback of the entire trackpad working as a gigantic button. Lenovo went the wrong way with the keyboard, as well. Dedicated buttons for volume are gone, and the F-keys now serve as multimedia controls and the F-keys require using Fn.
Overall reaction: Two thumbs down: I have preferred the Thinkpad line of laptops for over a decade, but the only thing to like about the new T-series is the battery life. They even changed the power adapter, making it incompatible with my current practice of having Thinkpad power adapters all over the house to use regardless of what room I am working in. At least in an office, on a docking station, I don't have to even touch these input devices.
Good For: Jeep builds another car. I drove the Patriot last year, and Jeep has offered the mechanically identical Compass alongside the Patriot for their first run of a car-based SUV. The only noticeable differences inside and out between the two cars is the body styling. The same "Freedom Drive I" 4x4 system delivers the same, respectable off-road capabilities as the Patriot. Versatility also seems equivalent, and the Compass also has a deep compartment to accomodate a full sized spare.
Compromises: I liked the CVT's optimization of power, but Jeep has switched most trims to use a Hyundai-sourced 6-speed automatic. It's better than many other automatics, but I'm glad a manual transmission is also still available. None of these options mask the Jeep's fuel efficiency, which is worse than some larger 6-cylinder vehicles.
Overall reaction - None: I like the Jeep Patriot as a fun and affordable off-road capable vehicle. The Compass price points north of the Patriot, however, and is more expensive even when equipped with identical options.
Good For: A leap to the present. The 10th generation Impala finally grows back to a full sized platform, with proper rear legroom for the class. The Chevrolet flagship sedan is equipped with the usual GM gadgetry, and the LTZ trim I drove had blind spot monitoring and lane departure warnings. The two tone dashboard accentuated lines that made me feel like the driver and passenger were wrapped in individual cocoons. The Impala distinguishes itself as being the only car I've driven that reminds me of a Jaguar D-Type racer. The curvy dashboard was unique and didn't bother me, nor does it seem to be a problem for most buyers since the Impala jumps back up to the number one selling full sized car with this redesign.
Compromises: Everything I liked about the old Impala has been carved away. There is no front bench seat, and the 300hp V6 requires going up to a $31k trim level. The parking brake is an electronic switch. At one point there were too many cars moving around for the collision control system to process and it gave a false alarm and deactivated itself.
Overall reaction - Thumb down to the new definition of a full sized sedan. It takes the shape of a big car, but is less comfortable than it looks. Speaking of Jaguar, there are some reasonably preserved old XJ-12s out there that could eat the Impala for lunch...